The Amazing Evans Repeating Rifle

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Built in small numbers just after the US Civil War, the Evans repeating rifle was a very interesting rifle whose unique magazine design gave it a very impressive 34-round magazine capacity. And no, that is not a misprint.

Design of the Evans

In the 1870s, the US was awash with good quality rifles such as the Sharps carbine, the Henry and Winchester lever action repeaters, and the Spencer carbine. These guns were handy and some, like the Henry, carried an impressive 15-rounds in their under barrel tubular magazines. However, one Dr. Warren Evans, a Maine dentist, thought he could do better.

(We give you the Evans Repeater...)

He came up with a .44 caliber rimfire rifle that worked a modified lever action under and around the trigger to feed fresh rounds into the chamber. These rounds were held in a magazine that ran down into the buttstock of the rifle and was very odd to say the least.
The rifle used an Archimedean-screw magazine that worked on the same concept that the ancient world came up with to move water into irrigation ditches.

The Archimedes screw in action.The magazine inside the Evans repeating rifle worked the same way, rotating one time for each pump of the lever action. Each round had a designated slot on the screw, which meant that loading and unloading as well as topping off a partially filled magazine, was very confusing. (photo courtesy of Silberwolf, size changed by Jahobr), Wikipedia.)

The inside of an Evans Rifle mag, photo credit Stephen Blancard

Still, it held 34 rounds of .44 caliber Evans Short, a 220-grain lead round nosed bullet pushed by 33 grains of blackpowder; it was reasonably effective and made the rifle interesting enough to get people to look at the thing.

(So take that Dianne Feinstein, 30-round magazines are far from a new thing!)

Production and use

These guns were made with the assistance Merwin, Hulbert, and Co, a small but well-respected firearms concern that was in business in New York City from 1872 through 1916. No less than eleven different models of the Evans were made by the Evans Repeating Rifle Company between 1873 and 1879.

These ranged from carbines with 22-inch barrels to military muskets with 30-inch round barrels to everything in between. Less than 15,000 of all types were produced but they did prove popular with some of the big names in the Old West to include Christopher Kit Carson.

(A shoeless Apache Indian around 1880 very well armed with a holstered revolver and an Evans repeater at his side)

According to Stephen Blancard's excellent page on the rifle, Carson even claimed "At twenty paces, have, with this rifle, shot the eyebrows from my wife, and every night regularly, in the presence of an audience I shot an apple from her hand, a pipe from her mouth, a penny from her fingers, or snuff a candle from her hand. I think the Evans is the safest and most complete repeating system ever devised."

(The action of the gun was ornate and complicated)

Not taking Carson's word for it, others found the gun unreliable, weird, and heavy when fully loaded. Further, the unique rounds it used were often unavailable in far off western towns, making the gun unusable.

Getting your own

Evans folded sometime in the early 1880s and their guns have been growing ever scarcer by the minute since then. Since there are so many variants of these guns and few very true experts, it is always suggested that anyone looking to buy sell or trade what they think is an Evans repeater get it professionally appraised first. These guns run wildly all over the place with examples showing up ranging from $1000-$25,000 depending on rarity of the model and condition.

This well-worn and very rough Evans rifle sold at auction for $650

The ammunition hasn't been loaded commercially for these guns since the 1920s so any live rounds you find for it should be treated as collector's items rather than fireable. Likewise, it's not recommended to fire one of these rifles as 19th century metallurgy, an unknown history, and the passage of time can play weird tricks on firearms.

This hasn't stopped the guns from being used in films such as Tombstone and games like Red Dead Redemption.

A great up close video of the Evans Repeating rifle from Ian over at Forgotten Weapons.

And of course, if you have one share the pictures and story behind it with the forum!

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